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Quit Shopping, Save Money

Written by Guest Contributor - 28 Comments

This is a guest post by J. Money of Budgets are Sexy. If you like what you see here, please consider subscribing to his RSS feed.

If you can go two entire weeks without spending a penny on anything other than bills, your mortgage (or rent), and food, you will impress the pants off of me! In fact, I might even consider you my new best friend. The unfortunate truth is that not many can pull off this feat and, sadly, I remain friend-less.

The challenge

Today, I challenge YOU to take me up on the offer. I know for a fact you have it in you, it’s just a matter of unleashing your inner frugal demons… It’s not going to be easy, but I can tell you from experience that you’ll look at spending a whole lot differently when this two weeks is up.

Not only will you realize how much you actually spend in a given week, but you’ll learn how to avoid putting yourself in the position to buy in the first place. If nothing else, you’ll come away with more money in your pockets and you’ll think twice before you go back to your old habits.

Believe it or not, I have tried this unimaginable idea myself. And it wasn’t only for two weeks either. Oh no, it was for 40 days straight! As in almost 6 weeks! As in I almost had to drink myself to sleep every night so I wouldn’t be tempted to leave the house! Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but you get the point.

In all honesty, I thought I was the bomb when it came to saving money. In truth, however, I wasn’t that good at being frugal with my money on a consistent basis. I wasn’t in crazy amounts of debt or anything, but if I saw a new gadget at Best Buy, I’d buy it. A new $100 jacket? I’d pick it up without much thought.

I never really understood how much I was spending until I STOPPED spending. It’s funny to read that back to myself here, but it’s so eerily true. The minute I had to scold myself for picking something up, I started seeing those dollar signs. Actually, it was more like hearing the ringing of cash registers.

Lessons learned

The point is this… Forty days straight of nothing but paying bills and eating/drinking really taught me a few things:

  1. I didn’t really NEED anything. It may sound crazy, but I didn’t need those graphic tees I picked up once a week, or those random paintings of apples I swore would look great in my kitchen. They all would have been nice, but I didn’t have to have them.
  2. Willpower is crazy powerful! It helped that I was giving up shopping for Lent, and thus I had the big man upstairs watching over me, but the fact of the matter was that I used to suck at going anywhere and not buying something. Challenging yourself can go far, especially in personal finance.
  3. After you get through the first two weeks, you’re golden. I won’t sugarcoat it… The first weeks suck. You’ll forget by day three and buy a song or something on iTunes, but that’s okay. You’re bound to mess up once or twice, but if you stick with it, you’ll get used to it and won’t even think about it anymore. It’s amazing.

I promise, your whole mindset will change when you physically stop shopping. It’s like the world just slows down, and you’ve suddenly got tons of extra time. The odd part is that I can’t even recall when I’ve been to the mall since taking up this challenge. Before I did this, I’d visit at least three times a month.

Now, I watch those Benjamins build up, and I blog/read/hang out with friends when I’m bored. It’s not as exciting as blaring Kanye West from your new $500 speakers, but it sure feels like you’re Kanye West when you look at your bank statement.

Published on July 8th, 2009 - 28 Comments
Filed under: Frugality

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28 Responses to “Quit Shopping, Save Money”

  1. 1
    Nicole Says:

    This is such a timely article for me. I decided that July will be a no-spend on non-essentials month for me. I did very well the first 5 days. Monday my husband wanted to pick up dinner instead of cooking, and I didn’t tell him no. Last night he wanted to go out, and again I didn’t tell him no. So now, I’ve already spent $50 more than I had planned to, because I didn’t have the backbone to say no to what he wanted. We are not on the same page in terms of our finances (he prefers to leave all of it to me), and he says I make him feel bad when I ask him to cut back on going out to eat for lunch when we have food at home, or to turn the air conditioner higher than the 72 he likes it to be set at. I’ve given up a lot of things so that I can pay his school tuition and he won’t have to work while he’s in school, so I get frustrated when he doesn’t want to be on board with me. Suggestions?

  2. 2
    sekishin Says:

    When considering a purchase, picture a stranger offering you (for example if the item was $40) $40 cash or the item in question, which is of greater value to you ? . . . which would you choose? . . . become mindful of each purchase decision . . .

  3. 3
    jennifer Says:

    we started this a few years ago out of necessity and it is AMAZING how easy it is once you get used to it! my husband was unemployed, we had lots of credit card debt and i just couldn’t sleep at night. i decided i wouldn’t go in to any (unnecessary) stores because it would end up making me just feel bad. you know what i found out? i don’t know what i’m missing out on when i don’t go! i stopped reading beauty magazines after i heard that song/speech that said “stop reading beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly”. so true again! shopping is no different than eating in excess–if it becomes a regular ‘outing’ or event, you are bound to over do it. find something else to occupy your time–i work out more, read more and guess what? we go out to dinner again regularly, but not nearly as much as we used to. our house isn’t perfect, but it works. i watched my parents for years spend lots of money on their home and wardrobe (they have $ to blow) and they are not nearly as happy as other couples who have less and spend more time doing activities, etc. going cold turkey doesn’t work for everyone when it comes to spending….it’s like a diet….if you eliminate everything at once, you are bound to fail. try with 2 or 3 changes in your life and keep changing until you are where you wanna be.

  4. 4
    Funny about Money Says:

    LOL! Last month I got through one whole week without buying anything other than a few food items: only two purchases, one of them for $3.13!!!

    Then I got caught in a speed trap ($188!) and had to make a couple of planned purchases, and so now I have $15/day for the rest of this month. Buying the chlorine tablets that the pool needs will require going several days without any other purchases.

    :-) Thank goodness for the freezer and the food hoard!

    If you look at it as a game (she who buys the least junk wins), it’s not only habit-forming, it’s kinda fun.

  5. 5
    Big Al Says:

    Uhh… I hate to break it to you, but this how I live my life pretty much ALL the time. It’s how I got from being $55,000 in debt (net worth of $24,000, so I was technically bankrupt) to now being debt free (no mortgate, credit cards get paid off every 2 weeks, so the bank pays ME the cashback, etc.) with a net worth of over $250,000 in 6 &1/2 years.
    It’s not as hard as it seems. You just start by cutting up your credit cards and leaving them cut up until you’re debt free, then deciding that you don’t NEED much. After while you begin to realize just how much frivolous spending you used to do.
    Then you see the bank balances going up,up,up into the black and it gets to be addictive.
    And you don’t need a huge salary to do it. I’ve never made more than $75,000/yr. It’s a good salary, but I’m not rich by any means. I’m just disciplined. It’s that easy, and it’s really enjoyable to see my future looking better and better every year.
    Try it!

  6. 6
    Matt Jabs Says:

    Everything in this post turned into concrete truth for me & my wife when we went on our Financial Fast.

    I advise everyone… do as this post suggests & go on a savings spree for a set number of days! Do at least 30 days… or do more if you can. The longer you go, the more dramatic effect it will have on your life!

  7. 7
    Viviana Says:

    I was sort of planning to do this anyway to give myself a bit of a push, now this post is making me even more determined.

    I will still go to market to get stuff for my Etsy shop since I have sold some stuff but I am not going to buy anything for myself.

    Thanks for the kick in the butt.

  8. 8
    Jacob Says:

    @Nicole (#1)

    I can’t say I speak from experience, but I have heard it suggested a few times. Generally, I have heard it suggested for dealing with kids, but it could be used in this situation too I would say…

    While of course you need to get his agreement to get on board, but once you get that far you need to *actually* get him on board. The problem with asking him to give up something (such as eating out for lunch) is that its a yes or no question. And of course he really doesn’t want to say yes to giving it up (and either do you). So you need to give him the facts and stop giving him yes or no choices. E.G. We need to cut our spending hubby and here is where I think we can cut down (dining-out, utilities, etc). Now instead of asking separately to give up or cut back one, present it as a whole. You can cut back/go cold turkey on one item and leave the rest unchanged or cut back in every area. Then there is no room to say “no, I don’t want to cut back.” For another example: do I want to eat this chocolate? Yes or No? …Presented another way… do I want to eat this chocolate or do I want to lose weight? Which one? It is mind over matter really.

    Also when you are presenting the facts to him, show him how you plan/are cutting back or making sacrifices for him (such as paying off tuition). Guilt trip the hubby into getting on board.

  9. 9
    Lulu Says:

    Wow, this is really making a connection to me. I’ve started a money journal and I write down everything I buy no matter if it’s cash, credit, or debit. It has helped me track my money which is helpful. Sadly, I’m still buying a lot of things I don’t really need. It’s hard but I know I need to get a handle on it.

  10. 10
    Bradley Jones Says:

    This surely sounds like quite a feat. I’d love to be able to make two weeks without spending a dime that wasn’t needed to spend. I think I may take on this challenge in the next week or so and blog about the results of the experience.

  11. 11
    SimpleVesting Says:

    I would have to find a way to block Amazon.com from any of my web browsers. That would work perfectly. Books from Amazon.com is definitely my vice.

  12. 12
    Kevin@OutOfYourRut Says:

    J. Money–You’ve done it, you’ve established the inaugural subject case for Detox For Debtors!

    No joke, what you described reads like detox, or at least a heavy diet. And 40(!) days! Was that Lent?

    I think you’re right about this though. Simple as it sounds the only way to stop spending is to just … stop. It takes a while but it is doable (infinately harder if you have kids, in all fairness to reality).

    Culturally, shopping has become the default setting when we’re bored. You can get out of the house, and come back with a new toy or two that extends the “experience”. Unforunately, it robs time from more productive and longer lasting activities. Who would benefit more from a shopping spree than from a gym membership? But, of course shopping is so much easier!

    Congratulations, what you’ve done is downright countercultural, and no small accomplishment.

  13. 13
    Jo Says:

    Unfortunately, if people quit shopping, especially at Cracker Barrel where I work, I’ll be out of a job. Kind of a domino effect; then I will definitely be in NO position to spend.

    I get the idea, though. Speaking for myself, I am more than ready to take you up on this 2-week challenge of not spending.

  14. 14
    Rosa Says:

    This awareness is part of why I am glad I never had student loans, and didn’t get a “real” job until I was in my mid-20s – for a long, long time I just never had any money in my pocket. No change for the snack machine; no dollars for the restaurant; a little jar of savings for thrift store shopping so I could look professional for my job. Other stuff was covered – rent, bus pass, health insurance – but I didn’t get in the habit of spending.

  15. 15
    Hanna Says:

    You know what’s also an even better idea? Going homeless, because hey if you really don’t want to make that biggest purchase, why not live with other people or on the street?

    I’m joking but all this ” I only spent $3.00 in 4 months ” is great but when does this become too extreme? Earning more income or slimming down your budget works just as well instead of being on lock down in your own house to keep yourself from spending the $1.19 on a Wendy’s frosty.
    I completely get it if someone is immensely in debt or overspending at Macy’s but if you can afford it why not?

  16. 16
    J. Money Says:

    Glad most of ya enjoyed it! I was probably told to give this a shot for years but it honestly didn’t phase me until I actually TRIED IT. From that day forward I really haven’t been the same!

    And you’re right Hanna, in excess it can get pretty crazy, but 2-4 weeks won’t harm you much – it’s just enough to give you a firm kick in the a$$ and make you realize what’s going on. I still spend like an idiot at times, but as long as I’m 90% on track my life is perfectly happy.

    So get out there everyone and just *start*! And then be sure to holler back and let us know what you thought of it ;)

  17. 17
    Chris @ BuildMyBudget Says:

    What a great blog! Avoiding spending opportunities altogether is my favorite way to cut spending. It really is easy if you can find a way to preoccupy your time…instead of shopping, read, write or engage other costless passions that you have.

  18. 18
    kev Says:

    I totally agree with Hanna.

    I get what you’re saying, but radical extremes are usually not a healthy way to manage anything. It sounds like a crash diet to me – lol. Not to sound negative, but most of you know how that works:

    Day 1: You totally stop eating and it’s easy! You’re pumped!

    Day 2: You’re still motivated but its getting harder and you feel like you may pass out.

    Day 3: You wake up from a sugar-induced comma surrounded by empty Crispy-Creme packages and SURPRISE! You weigh more now than what you did before the diet started!!!

    Don’t crash diet your finances. That $5.00 trip to McDonald’s may actually be the one thing that is keeping you from blowing 3 months salary on a new entertainment center.

  19. 19
    Strick Says:

    Hanna/Kev – the exceptions “bills, your mortgage (or rent), and food” keeps this from being anything but “extreme”. Heck, you even get to keep cable/cell phones/etc.

    I guess its true some folks need to shop as much as they need to eat and therefore this is some sort of crash diet for them but, for people like me (I would assume most people?), skipping that $5 trip to McDs for a month does’t cause me to want to buy something else to replace that spending feeling, it causes me to enjoy that next McDs I do get (and I will get it later). A little denial can turn a humdrum thing into something special. Eating McDs everyday for a month costs $200 and gives little pleasure. Eating there once costs $5 and, man, those fries are then really really good.

  20. 20
    Kevin@OutOfYourRut Says:

    Strick–You hit on something with the McDonalds analogy, I mean the part about enjoying it more for going less.

    We have so much of everything in life that nothing is special. The first time you eat at McD’s it feels special, like a unique experience. It feels good, so you do it again, and again, and again. You no longer enjoy it, but you’re past the 21 days it takes to turn an experience into a habit so you’re hooked. You go there, you even know it’s bad for you, but you keep going because now it’s what you know. It’s your routine.

    Now it’ll take 21 days of doing without it to break you of the habit. We’re back to the original point of the post.

    When I was a kid, people only went out for dinner for special occasions, maybe 2-3 times a year, and it tasted Oh so good! Now it’s just a bad habit, and a costly one! We’ve been conditioned to have a lot of those habits.

  21. 21
    Meg Says:

    This is how I live every week – but I’m hardly frugal.

    I don’t spend any money on shopping on a monthly basis (though I tend to go on sprees every few months or so), and I rarely even pay for entertainment (unless you count my monthly cable bill).

    My problem is that I spend a TON on food and dining! So limiting my purchases to food and bills doesn’t really help me. Going out with friends is my shopping addiction – and even beyond that I pick up dinner on the way home most nights of the week even if I’m not going out. I’m trying to reign it in now, but it’s tough because you can’t use the “just quit cold turkey” approach – I have to buy food regularly; I just have to learn to do it cheaper!

  22. 22
    jennifer Says:

    hanna/kev–i understand where you are going with your postings, but it doesn’t feel extreme to me. so many of my friends use shopping and eating out as regular events (substitutes for other activities), that it becomes the norm. what happened to going shopping when you actually needed something instead of just to shop? what happened to eating out on occasion instead of pretty much all the time? and we wonder why we are overweight when all we end up doing is eating and shopping lol !
    crash dieting doesn’t work for finances or food–unless you are in crisis. severly overweight, diabetes, heart problems or you are about to lose your house, your job or are unable to put food on the table. then you have no choice.
    the rest of us who could stand to lose a little weight or save a little money, can start by not buying what you don’t need. it sounds so simple and guess what?
    it is :)

  23. 23
    Kevin@OutOfYourRut Says:

    Jennifer–Good points. Some people can cut back gradually and it’ll work. But I suspect that for most it’s just a way of walking on both sides of the street at once. If you’re a little in debt, you can cut back shopping and spending a little, but if you’re deep in, a crash diet is the only think that will work.

    And it isn’t just about saving money. The time spent shopping could be invested in more productive activities that provide a number of benefits (exercise, learning new skills, building stronger bonds with people, learning to like your life without so much stuff etc.).

  24. 24
    Tom @ Canadian Finance Blog Says:

    This one’s pretty easy for me. The wife and I don’t really spend on non-essentials. Lately we’ve been buying stuff either on sale or from Costco for the coming baby, but that’s somewhat needed.

  25. 25
    Kevin@OutOfYourRut Says:

    Tom–with a baby coming, consider buying baby clothes at garage sales and thrift stores. Don’t buy brand new, they grow out of everything in a matter of weeks! There’s always the temptation to buy brand new, especially if it’s your first child, so buy a few special outfits to keep for posterity, but go the 2nd hand route for the everyday stuff. You’ll save a ton of money.

    I can’t tell you how many outfits we bought or received as gifts that were never worn! They really do grow so fast.

    Oh and one other bit of unsolicited advice–as tempted as you might be to buy cute and pretty outfits, by the second or third time they toss their cookies, you’ll know why their clothing should be kept simple.

  26. 26
    MikeS Says:

    My daughter is about 20 months old now and I don’t think my wife and I have actually bought her anything yet. Everything she wears is either a gift or hand-me downs from her older cousins. Some of the clothes they gave us still had the tags on them!! Don’t think we’re buying anything any time soon.

  27. 27
    Lee Says:

    First time visitor, so “Hi!”. :-)

    August is going to be a “no spend month” for me, beyond the absolute essentials of getting to work, staying nourished and paying the usual bills. I will not buy anything, at all.

    This just adds to my motivation, so thanks :)

  28. 28
    Im addicted! Says:

    My husband has been getting on me for years about we really need to consider what we NEED versus what we WANT. I’ve always known he was right, its just hard when you are addicted to stuff! I get bored easily and it just seems like shopping (or might I go as far as to say) spending money makes me feel better? That’s just crazy…..so, I am taking on this 21 day challenge of spending NOTHING on anything but gas, food, and bills (we all pretty much only drink H20 anyway so drinks aren’t an expense :) I’m praying this is the breakthru I need to change my lifestyle and help me become a better steward of the blessings the Lord has given me.

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